One of the most important steps in a mentoring relationship is properly pairing the Mentor and Mentee. Researchers typically define the pathway by which a mentor-mentee pair develops as either 1) informal mentorship or 2) formal mentorship (Johnson, 2002). Informal mentorship is where the mentoring relationship develops out of common interests, goals, and agreeable personalities. A formal mentorship is mandated by an outside third party and possibly includes a forced pairing. The degree of success in formal and informal mentorships has been shown to be quite different: 

Informal Mentorships - "Proteges in informal relationships receive more career and psychosocial functions from mentors and report greater effect from, and satisfaction with, the mentorship." (Johnson, 2002, p. 89). 

Formal Mentorships - "It appears that formally assigned mentorships result in less identification, less relational comfort, less motivation for mentoring, and ultimately less communication and interaction." (Johnson, 2002, p.89). 

Students and professors are encouraged to develop informal mentor-mentee relationships based upon their interests and compatibility. These have the track record of the most success and satisfaction. 

Within a departmental or institutional setting, however, it is often desirable to develop a formal mentoring program in order to insure that some mentoring is occurring. Within these settings there is still the possibility of taking on some of the qualities of an informal mentorship so long as the enforced student-professor pairing still occurs as a choice instead of a forced assignment. Randomly assigning students to a mentor typically is associated with the lowest degree of success (Cesa and Fraser, 1989). 

Some researchers have attempted to build tools to help improve the pairing process for formal mentorships. Rose (2003) has developed an ideal mentor scale that is used in the pairing process. It uses questions based on integrity, guidance, and relationship to assist in matching a graduate student with a mentor. Cahill and Blanchard (2001) have provided questions to assist the mentor and mentee as they engage in a mentoring interview. These questions are designed to help determine the type of mentoring relationship that is desired and the needs of the mentee. The appropriate tools to assist in matching the mentor and mentee probably vary by situation and the personalities of the individuals involved. 

Companion Question:

1) True or False*? The most successful mentoring relationships occurs as a result of formal assignment of a student to a mentor. 

* = Correct answer